The stage is now set for a battle of the titans – No. 1 vs. No. 2.
The Wildcats secured dominant wins over St. Edward and Copley last week, advancing to 8-0-0 on the year. With a perfect record, the Wildcats have no opponents separating them from powerhouse St. Benedict's Prep on Friday at Krenzler Field at 7 pm.
Before looking ahead to the game of the year vs. St. Benedict's, let's take a look at how the Wildcats conquered two foes last week.
Rivalry match ends in another win
The Wildcats and the Eagles always produce a fierce match, no matter the ranking of either team.
On Wednesday on Wasmer Field, the Eagles put up a fight, but the Wildcats sped by the visitors in the second half, en route to a 5-1 win.
After thunder and lightning pushed back the start time, the Wildcats and Eagles took the field to gray skies. St. Edward stormed out of the gates, tallying an early goal, but the Wildcats provided a quick response. Austin Zeleznik struck first blood for the Wildcats.
After a period of back-and-forth option, Zeleznik tallied what would be the game-winner. The senior captain found twine with 19:10 left in the half on another beauty. The score stood at 2-1 through the half.
Zeleznik's outburst occurred in one of his first returns to the field from an injury. Head Coach Mike McLaughlin '85 is glad to see him back.
"I'm so happy for him and for what he's doing for the team," McLaughlin said. "Up until this season, he had started 43 games in a row. He hasn't missed a game. That's hard. He's such a tricky player. Other teams don't expect to do the things he does. This year, we're playing him higher up the field as an offensive wing. He's been really dangerous and scoring great goals. He's changed the complexion of the team."
Early in the half, the Wildcats peppered the visitors' net with shots. Two shots clanged off the post, nearly improving the lead. At the 47 minute mark, Kyle Folds left no doubt. The senior scored off a beauty of a penalty kick, bending the ball around a wall of six Eagles from just outside the box.
Another Saint Ignatius senior got in on the action with 22:12 remaining. Theo Kudlo careened a ball into the back of the net, continuing a wonderful season for the star.
The scoring finished at the midway point of the second stanza. Matthew McLaughlin put the finishing touches on an excellent win, upping the lead to 5-1, which stood as the final score.
The win marks the Wildcats' eighth win in a row over the Eagles. St. Edward has not defeated Saint Ignatius on the pitch since 2013. Over the past five seasons, the Soccer Cats have outscored the Eagles, 35-5.
The Wildcats hoped to keep a clean sheet against the Eagles, but a 5-1 victory is a nice achievement.
"Every game, we're taking more steps forwards than backwards," Coach Mike said. "We're playing really well. We're giving up a goal here or there, but these are 16-17-year-old young men. They're not paid professionals, so they're going to make mistakes. As long as we learn from the mistakes. Mistakes keep you humble and on your edge to keep you from getting complacent. It lets us know we're not perfect and that there's always work for us to do."
Matthew and Marko Show in win over Copley
Matthew McLaughlin and Marko Rimac put on a great show in a 6-1 win over Copley on Saturday. The senior and junior combined for three of the six goals scored by the Wildcats.
From the start, the Wildcats dominated. In the first half, Rimac helped ignite the offense, tallying his first goal of the game. And another familiar face lit the fire in the opening period – Austin Zeleznik.
The senior scored two goals to move the Wildcats ahead big. Four goals in two games isn't too shabby. The Case Western Reserve University commit is really catching fire.
Luciano Pechota rounded out the scoring in the first stanza. The sophomore has played a nice role in the offense this year, showcasing the bright future of the program. The Wildcats led, 4-1, heading into the break.
The second half saw more of the same for the Wildcats – stout defense with a high-pressure, unrelenting offense. Matthew and Marko shone brightly in tallying a goal apiece, extending the lead to 6-1, which stood as the final score.
The scoresheet was littered with Saint Ignatius stars, but one outstanding young man without a goal performed quite well. Defender Danny Kalic played with a passion against Copley, as he's done all year.
"Danny Kalic is a quiet, dominant player," said Coach McLaughlin. "Against Louisville Xavier, in my eyes, he was the man of the match. Against St. Ed's and Copley, he was equally as good. He reads the game really well and brings a physical presence, but he's also good with the ball. He's done an incredible job."
Meanwhile, the JV Cats also won twice this week to remain undefeated.
One of the biggest games in program history
Friday's showdown between Saint Ignatius and St. Benedict's Prep represents one of the best games in program history.
The Wildcats and Bees enter the marquee match as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, according to Top Drawer Soccer. The winner may very well win a national championship.
The two schools have enjoyed plenty of success over the last 20 years. St. Benedict's has captured 11 national titles, while Saint Ignatius has won 4 national crowns.
"This is one of the biggest games in the history of our program on Friday," said Coach Mike. "For a team like St. Benedict's to come to Cleveland is a really big deal. We've earned their arrival to Cleveland. They're coming here because our two teams have been two of the top programs in the country for the last decade-plus."
The showdown at Cleveland State's Krenzler Field will be one to remember. Last season, the Bees opened up a 3-0 lead in the first half before the Wildcats roared back into contention in the second stanza.
This season's St. Benedict's team is a strong defensive squad that plays with confidence. Every Bee is comfortable with the ball, bringing dynamic skillsets to the fore.
"This is what every player dreams about – having a chance to play for something that really matters," Coach McLaughlin said. "I'm excited, because in October and November, we'll be playing for something that really really matters, too. For them to experience this pressure and this type of moment and be on this type of stage is a great learning experience. Week in and week out, we're facing these challenges that will make us better."
Win or lose, the Wildcats have another big battle on Saturday. Columbus St. Charles will visit Wasmer Field for an afternoon contest. The Wildcats will host Camper Appreciation Day on Saturday, with summer campers enjoying free attendance.